Thursday, February 18, 2010

Full Employment, Universal Social Insurance, and an Ultimate Safety Net in Sweden

Sweden’s welfare policy is based on an economic policy geared to full employment for both women and men and a universal social insurance system. The main aim of the Government’s labour market policy is a well-functioning labour market, full employment and satisfactory economic growth. The policy is based on the principle of providing incentives to work and improve skills. If there is a shortage of work, the unemployed are offered suitable training or other measures to help them find a job.
To promote the achievement of these goals, labour market policy aims to help match job-seekers and vacancies as soon as possible, to improve their knowledge and skills, to support those who find it hardest to find a job and to provide income security during a transitional period of involuntary unemployment. An ‘activity guarantee’ provides additional support on a full-time basis to enable persons who have been excluded from the labour market for a long time to find a new job or start studying. Apart from the unemployed, part-time workers and persons who wish to increase their working time are eligible for the Guarantee.
Welfare systems must also be appropriately designed to achieve high employment. Appropriate social and labour market insurance schemes contribute to growth and increased security for individuals. The same applies to access to child care for all children. The Swedish social insurance system is universal and is largely based on the principle of compensation for loss of income. The entire population of Sweden enjoys individual rights regardless of their social or professional position, marital status or sex. They are also eligible for many benefits regardless of whether or not they are at work. Unemployment insurance is voluntary, but there is also a basic protection against unemployment for all those who are qualified on the basis of previous employment.
The social insurance system provides income-related compensation for loss of income. The following are examples of income-related benefits: compensation for parents who are at home from work to look after small children (parental benefit), compensation for persons who cannot work on account of sickness (sickness benefit), an allowance for persons with permanently reduced work capacity (sickness/activity allowance), compensation for persons who are injured or become sick at work (work injury compensation) and old-age pensions. In several cases there is a guaranteed benefit level that is paid to insured persons with a low income or no income. The social insurance system also includes allowances for various situations, e.g. child benefit and housing allowances.
A universal insurance system with income-related benefits was considered a better alternative than a system with low minimum benefit levels. Universal systems ensure that people who do not work for a temporary period as a result of sickness, unemployment etc. or who no longer work owing to invalidity or old age continue to receive an income that allows them to maintain their standard of living. A universal welfare system is not only less costly to administer than a system with means-tested benefits, it also ensures long-term distributive effects and high legitimacy.
The goal of economic family policy is to reduce the differences between families with and without children within the framework of the universal welfare system. Family policy is designed with a view to the best interests of children. One basic principle is to seek to create a level playing field for all children. This is achieved by supporting the parents so that they can invest in their children’s welfare while they are growing up and by making it possible to combine parenting with work and study.
The social services are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the local authority inhabitants get the help and support they need. This may be provided in the form of financial assistance, care of children and adolescents, care of substance abusers or other measures to help the most disadvantaged. The social services are also responsible for care of the elderly and disabled. Apart from providing services, they have sole authority to act in certain situations, for example to intervene to protect children at risk. The guiding principles for the social services are a holistic approach and voluntariness, the view that prevention is better than cure and the will to make the most of the individual’s own resources. These principles provide guidance both for the social services’ practical activities and for the view of humanity that governs their activities. Children’s best interests and their right to express their views are fundamental principles in all matters affecting children.
The right to assistance for subsistence or other living expenses is provided by the Social Services Act. The Act guarantees individuals the right to support and assistance from society when their circumstances make such action necessary for some reason. A subsistence allowance is provided for reasonable living expenses. These ‘reasonable expenses’ are calculated on the basis of a nationally applicable norm. Appeals may be made to an administrative court against the rejection of an application for assistance or any other decision taken under the Social Services Act.
About one-fifth of the population of Sweden consists of people who were born, or have at least one parent who was born, in another country. Everyone who lives in Sweden has the same rights, obligations and opportunities regardless of ethnic origin. This is to be taken into account in the design and formulation of government policy in general. The goals and approaches adopted in integration policy are to be applied in all social sectors. The aim of integration policy is to help people so that they can support themselves and play their part in society, to defend basic democratic values, to promote equal rights and opportunities for women and men and to combat racism, xenophobia and ethnic discrimination. The long term object of efforts to prevent and combat racism etc. is laid down in the national action plan against racism, xenophobia, homophobia and discrimination that has been adopted by the Government. The National Integration Office has overall responsibility for ensuring that the goals and approaches applied in integration policy are implemented in various sectors.
Refugees who arrive in Sweden are offered induction programmes, since they and other persons in need of protection often need a great deal of support during their first months in Sweden. The purpose of the package of measures implemented during the first few months after their arrival is to make it possible for them to find accommodation and a regular job so that can support themselves and to acquire a good knowledge of Swedish as soon as possible so that they can participate in social life. Induction programmes for new refugees are an important means of smoothing the path towards integration. Local authorities are responsible for providing these programmes with the support of the National Integration Office, which also oversees the programmes.

Sweden’s action plan against poverty and social exclusion 2003-2005, pp.16,17,19

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